ESPN and ABC will provide multi-day coverage of the 2022 AT&T WNBA All-Star Weekend, July 9-10, live from Chicago. Entering All-Star Weekend, WNBA games across Disney networks are averaging 317,000 viewers (through 17 games), up 5 percent over the same point in 2021.
ESPN’s leading WNBA analysts Rebecca Lobo and LaChina Robinson – who will be on-site in Chicago – reflect on the season thus far, discuss the contributions of legends Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles, preview the second half of the season and reveal what they are most looking forward to about WNBA All-Star Weekend.
On teams they have been most impressed with so far this season. . .
Lobo: “My answer probably changes every couple of weeks. I was incredibly impressed with how Vegas came out of the gates (13-2 start) and have been impressed recently with Chicago. These condensed WNBA seasons are always interesting to follow because team’s fortunes and the shift in the standings can change rapidly. Even minor injuries and Covid absences for key players can result in three or four games missed because there are so many games in short windows.
Atlanta has also been impressive. Tanisha Wright is doing an incredible job there. If the Dream make the playoffs, it will be hard not to vote her as Coach of the Year.”
Robinson: “I would definitely start with the Las Vegas Aces as Becky Hammon made her return to the WNBA as a head coach. A team that has been on the cusp of a championship but had fallen short, making a major change and losing a big piece in Liz Cambage. They have proven to be one of the most exciting teams to watch because of their aggressive offensive style. They have flirted with historical offensive numbers and I was also impressed with how quickly they were able to seamlessly incorporate the three-point shot. Then there is the emergence of a couple of former number one overall picks and Kelsey plum and Jackie Young who were both picked as All-Star starters. It’s been really cool to watch the progression of their careers and to ultimately take their place as two of the best guards in the league. Then, of course, you have A’ja Wilson, who is in the running for both MVP and defensive player of the year anchoring them at the five spot. It’s been a lot of fun to watch Becky put the pieces together in Vegas.
One surprise team for me is definitely the Atlanta dream. Tanisha Wright in her first year as a head coach after serving as an assistant and former player, coming to an organization that only returned four players from last year’s roster. They have also been without their all-star Tiffany Hayes for most of the season and yet if the playoffs started today they are in after only winning eight games all of last year. They’ve already surpassed that win total and we are only halfway through the season.
It has been the perfect storm for Atlanta of new pieces in the front office that have been a great fit, the change at head coach, trading up for the number one overall pick in Rhyne Howard who is a superstar, and they have sold out the arena on several occasions. This organization was in turmoil last year and now all eyes are on Atlanta’s meteoric rise.”
On current frontrunners for 2022 League MVP. . .
Lobo: “I think the front runners are Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum. Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker and Jonquel Jones certainly are other names in the conversation but I think the first three are leading the way right now.”
Robinson: “I would say my two front runners are A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart. I picked those two because statistically, they are amongst the best and on both ends of the floor and that’s an important aspect for me when I’m picking MVP. Is a player effective all 94 feet, not just scoring? Both A’ja and Stewie have done that, with the Aces having a better season so far. There are a couple of other players that I think have had notable performances, including someone like a Nneka Ogwumike who has been fantastic for L.A. and Candace Parker who has had some brilliant moments. But I really believe that A’ja and Stewie right now are at the top based on how many different ways they contribute to their team’s success.”
On the legacies of Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles as they play in their final All-Star Game in their final season in the league. . .
Lobo: “I feel like I’ve been retired from the W forever, and I played against Sue Bird her first couple seasons. How is that possible??? I covered Syl in college, when she was battling against Candace Parker in SEC matchups. Many fans are like me in that they feel like they’ve watched both these women grow up the last 15-20 years. Fans are invested in them because they’ve given so much back to us over a long period of time. As players, they will be the standard-bearers at their positions for a long, long time. Point guards will be compared to Sue and traditional centers compared to Sylvia.
Both Sue and Sylvia represent all that is good about the WNBA. Yes, they are champions and All-Stars and all-WNBA performers, but they stand for much more. They have both given back to their communities and been incredible role models.”
Robinson: “We owe a lot to Sylvia and Sue for all that they have contributed to the WNBA, on and off the court. Their longevity and sustained excellence, has put them in position to really propel the league in so many ways over the years. Internationally they are both multiple Olympic gold medal winners, WNBA Champions, and leaders in several all-time career statistical categories including rebounds and assists.
Their departures signal the end of an era of playing style in the League. Sylvia Fowles is more of a back-to-the-basket, power post player that we don’t really see anymore. Now, when we look at post in the WNBA, they’re shooting threes and have guard-like skill. Syl comes from a generation of power play in the paint that seems to be expiring. I appreciate what she has done in anchoring the center spot and, in my opinion, Sylvia Fowles is the best center to have ever played in the WNBA. Syl has been the ultimate teammate and one of the kindest people I’ve ever come across in life, not just sport. She has never complained despite not getting the media attention or respect for all that she has accomplished in the game of basketball. Syl is one of the most dedicated professionals in all of sport and maintained a high level of excellence and consistency that is rare.
On the court, Sue was a traditional past first point-guard and much like Sylvia there’s an evolution now where there are more scoring point-guards or lead guards. She is not only arguably the best point guard to ever play in the WNBA but she is synonymous with the league. Sue has meant so much to every generation of player that has come through the WNBA, as she’s won a championship in every decade she’s played in. She has set a precedent for how you carry yourself as an ambassador for the league and someone that makes everyone around her feel important, which is also a great quality for a point guard. Sue transcends basketball as one of the most likeable personalities in all of sport, she has been a selfless leader of her team and of the league.”
On what they are each looking forward to the most about the 2022 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game. . .
Lobo: “Watching players have fun. No other game showcases the players joy on the court more than the All-Star game. The smiles, the side conversations, the playful interactions between teammates and those on opposing teams illustrate how much fun basketball can be. And WNBA All-Star games are often pretty competitive. The women want to win. There’s a great mix of that fire and the joy of playing.”
Robinson: “I’m looking forward to returning to Chicago for the energy that the city has for the game of basketball. It was eye opening for me to be there during the finals in 2021 to see the love that Chicago has for the sport, but also for the WNBA and for the Sky. For years the team played in Rosemont and we were removed from some of the authentic Chicago vibes that proved to be electric last season on their run to a championship. This could be one of the more fun All-Star weekends because this condensed season has been grueling and everyone is ready to step away and just hang for a few. However, with the lead voters as captains drafting teams, it does bring a bit more competition that could make Sunday really exciting. I am also eager to see if Allie Quigley can win the 3-pt contest again in basically a home game for the Joliett, Ill. native and DePaul grad.
Chicago is one of my favorite cities in the summer so I’m looking forward to returning and getting to recapture some of that magic that we felt during the WNBA Finals last year.”
On the storylines they will be keeping an eye on going into the second half of the season. . .
Lobo: “Chicago showed us last year how important it is to be healthy and hot at the right time. I don’t think anyone expected a .500 team to win the championship. In fairness, most also didn’t expect Chicago to be a .500 team. Which team(s) will find their groove heading into the playoffs? Will Vegas regain their early form? Will Chicago hold steady? Will Seattle or Connecticut use their playoff experience to ride momentum to a berth in the Finals?
I’m also eager to see other storylines play out. How do Sue and Syl’s last seasons end? Will Stewie and A’ja finish first and second in MVP voting again (like they did in 2020)? Will Sabrina Ionescu continue to emerge as a star? How will Rhyne Howard perform the second half of her great rookie campaign.
There are a lot of reasons to watch. A lot of great hoops to be played. I can’t wait to cover it all”
Robinson: “This season has been so strange in that it took a while for teams to hit their stride again because so many factors impacted the first half of the season. Big agents getting acclimated in new places, COVID, new head coaches, injuries, late international arrivals, the condensed season. So I think teams are just starting to get a handle on their identities and get some flow and consistency. As the dust starts to settle teams that we thought were going to be towards the bottom of the league standings are starting to make a push – L.A. Minnesota, New York. Those are three teams in particular that are heading into the All-Star break with a lot of momentum. And three teams that we thought at one point may not have a shot at making the playoffs but things are starting to come together. I am eager to see what this means for the second half of play.
In that same vein, Chicago is the team that I picked to repeat and they have looked unbeatable in stretches in this first half. Can they sustain that and become the first team, since the 01-02 Sparks to win back-to-back championships?
And then Seattle. . .how does the Tina Charles move pan out? I do believe that they needed something that has kept them out of the “elite” conversation this season so the question is..is Tina and Seattle that perfect marriage that gets Sue her fifth championship before retirement and Tina her first trophy?
And then Vegas, how do they handle the pressure of being crowned the WNBA champion before they’ve actually won anything? All season, I feel like they’ve been so dominant in stretches that we’ve pretty much given them the trophy. But they’ve started to show some vulnerability and I’m just wondering how they will respond. Will they be able to get back to the level at which we thought they were capable in the first half and win A’ja Wilson and Becky Hammon’s first WNBA championship.”